“I Can’t Make it Alone”; a most promising song left behind in Bob Dylan’s basement

By Tony Attwood

There is hardly any commentary that I can find on this song; indeed no one has even attempted to put the lyrics on line.  And yet it is much more of a serious attempt at a new song, with its own lyrics, own melody and own chord sequence than many of the other songs that have turned up on the first two discs of the basement tapes.

Certainly there is a lot of uncertainty within the song, and maybe that is what has put everyone off, but if one can hear beyond that lack of rehearsal and lack of clarity in the lyrics and chord sequences, there is something beneath that could have emerged into a full bloodied Dylan album track of much value… if only Bob had decided to persevere with the song and complete it.

As with the other non-released songs from the Basement Complete box set we have a haiku

Woman is no help
To guy who says he loves her
And needs her with him.

and I’m sure that is right as a summary – although the amount of the lyrics I can work out is negligible – the sum total of my input is given below as a set of isolated lines.

What is clearly laid down in this song is a descending bass accompanied by a series of minor chords and unexpected pauses.  But we also get a whole bunch of equally unexpected major chords on at the end of lines – unexpected not just to the listener, but also to the band who play minors while (I presume) Dylan, on the piano, plays the majors.

Did he think this would be an interesting clash – guitar playing minor, him playing major?  Or did he not notice, perhaps because he couldn’t hear them too well, or because he was so focused on making up the words?

As a technique, the major/minor clash sounds horrible to me, but Dylan kept going with it all the way through the song, so maybe he felt there was something there.  But even if not he could readily have corrected the situation with a quick word to the band and another run through.  But at this stage of the Basement Tapes we don’t get re-takes at all.

Indeed I have the feeling this song could have been quite something within a few days, but the opening note I made to myself the first time I heard this recording (“Hugely under rehearsed”) seems about right – unless there was no rehearsal at all.  Maybe he just started playing and the band joined in.

And curious as that sounds, this would make sense, since what Bob is doing with the major chords at the end of some lines is unexpected.  Most musicians would have gone to a minor each time – exactly as the band did.

As for the lyrics, I am not going to make a complete fool of myself by writing down anything more than a few lines that are fairly clear – these are only random lines, but they give you a feel for the song.  If you want to help me out, please do send in your version. I would consider any contributions a major favour.

Well I went and booked my ticket

You are just so wicked I don’t even try

Can’t make it alone

Well if I couldn’t have tomorrow

I can’t make it alone.

That’s not much I know, but it gives you the feeling.     And certainly by this point coming to the end of disc 2 in the set we are starting to get a series of new ideas from Bob which he is trying out, rather than just playing the songs that everyone knew, or straightforward 12 bar blues.

He is, if we take it that these songs are presented in the order in which they were recorded, getting the feel for what they were doing, and what they could do.  And what is particularly noticeable is that we are moving on through several phases of work here:

Phase 1: (Disc 1 of the Basement Complete, and the early part of disc 2) Playing lots of other people’s songs, with just occasional Dylan songs

Phase 2: (End of disc 2) Trying out a few new ideas by playing incomplete songs with the band following as best they may.

Phase 3: Multiple takes of new Dylan compositions.

Phase 4: Re-visiting old Dylan compositions.

The reviews will continue over the next month until we’ve looked at all the Dylan compositions on the Basement Tapes.

What else is on the site?

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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